Best Dental Hygiene Schools + Career Information – 2023
Written By: Editorial Staff @ NursingProcess.org
As a dental hygienist, you will serve an important role in your community while also earning an average hourly salary that is triple the current federal minimum wage. Becoming a dental hygienist also allows you to choose from several different educational paths that range from a two-year degree commitment to obtaining a master’s degree. We’ve ranked the 5 best dental hygiene programs in the nation to help you select the ideal option to launch your new career.
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What Education is Required to Become a Dental Hygienist?
The majority of places that employ dental hygienists require you to have at least an associate’s degree. You can also choose to pursue higher level degrees to either advance in your career or to stay competitive during a new job search. Colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dental hygiene that help you stand out as a job candidate.
An associate degree will cost about $4,370 on the lower end of the range, but you could pay as much as $54,980. Typically, you will pay more if you go to a university for your associate degree, but this choice also makes it easier to transfer credits if you decide to pursue a master’s degree. A bachelor’s degree can cost anywhere between $17,930 and $99,610 to complete. Since a master’s degree can cost as much as $80,170, many people begin to work on an associate degree and decide later if they prefer to continue with their education.
| Type|| Cost|
|Associate Degree||$4,370 - $54,980 |
|Bachelor's Degree||$17,930 - $99,610 |
|Master's Degree||$23,370 - $80,170 |
People often think of an associate degree as taking two years to complete. However, many people find that it is better to do their coursework over 30 months, which is just a little over two years. A bachelor’s degree typically takes four years to finish. It is also helpful to know that a master’s degree only takes one or two more extra years of coursework after you obtain your bachelor’s degree.
| Type|| Length|
|Associate Degree||20 - 30 Months|
|Bachelor's Degree||4 - years|
|Master's Degree||Between 1 and 2 years|
Can I Pursue This Program Online?
Dental hygiene schools require you to actively participate in hands-on training exercises that are not possible to complete online. For this reason, you can expect to complete many of your courses in a traditional classroom setting. However, your classroom will most likely resemble a dental clinic with much of the same types of equipment and tools that you will use after you complete your educational program and obtain employment. If you prefer to work through the program faster, many colleges and universities will allow you to complete your core educational courses, such as English and mathematics, online.
You will need to meet specific admission requirements before you can enter a dental hygienist training program. These can vary according to each school, but should include the following. Keep in mind that these requirements are for an associate or bachelor’s degree. You will need a bachelor’s degree before you can seek admission to a master’s degree program.
• High school diploma or GED
• Successful completion of entrance exam
• Possible prerequisite coursework such as science courses
The curriculum to earn your degree will include a mixture of general education courses that are pertinent to your career field as well as specific ones that apply to your dental hygienist duties. For instance, you will likely need to take anatomy and physiology classes that teach you the basic features of a person’s mouth such as the ligaments and bones so that you can use the correct terminology when you work in a dental office. Since your primary duties include doing cleanings and oral health assessments, you will also learn about periodontics, which is the treatment of gum disease. Patient care and ethics are a few more topics that are covered in a dental hygienist degree program.
What are the 5 Best Dental Hygiene Programs Accredited by CODA in the Nation for 2023?
Located in Bridgeport, CT, University of Bridgeport’s, Fones School of Dental Hygiene offers three types of dental hygiene degree programs –
This two-year program, containing 73 credits of coursework, covers fundamental knowledge of dental health, preventive care, and elementary microbiology, amongst others. The coursework of the first year (two semesters) should be completed with grade “C” or above (collectively 2.5 QRP) to continue your studies into the second year.
Bachelor of Science:
This 120-124-credit program will up your level of skills and knowledge in dental hygiene care, as well as enhance your critical thinking skills through liberal arts courses, integrated within the curriculum. Part of the coursework can also be customized as per your interest. If you have completed any accredited DH program, you can transfer up to 60-90 credits and complete this degree in two years.
Bachelor of Science Online:
If you have completed your associate degree in dental hygiene from an accredited school in the United States or Canada, and have also obtained your DH licensure, then you are eligible to opt for this online degree program. The curriculum remains the same as the regular Bachelor of Science Degree program.
Master of Science:
This program is designed for those who want to excel in the field of dental hygiene, and contribute to enhance public health or become a leader in the dental domain. You can complete this course in two years, and earn your degree after completion of your capstone project or thesis.
• The University of Bridgeport established the Fones School of Dental Hygiene in 1949, and it was fully accredited in 1953.
• The Fones is the world’s first dental hygiene school, named after Dr. Alfred Civilion Fones.
• Graduates of any one of the three programs are eligible to sit for the national, state or regional examinations.
New York University, located in the state of New York, offers multiple convenient options to aspirants looking to complete A.A.S. or B.S. degrees in dental hygiene.
There are currently four options to complete the 78-credit associate degree:
• The 17-month fast-paced track is for those students who can put in the dedication and commitment to learn and grasp the entire coursework within a stipulated time. This program starts in the Spring each year.
• The 2-year track is for those students who can make a full-time commitment, completing 17 to 22 credits of coursework in each semester.
• The 3-year day track is for those students who want to learn at a slower pace. With the coursework, spread over six semesters, it makes it easier to absorb concentrated subjects, and core practices.
• The 3-year evening track is ideal for those students who can devote time to their studies during evenings, owing to their work or family commitments.
There are three options to complete the 128-credit Bachelor of Science degree:
• A regular 4-year Track A, divided into eight semesters with each semester containing 15-18 credit of coursework. Classes start thrice a year in fall, spring and summer.
• A fast-paced 3-year Track A comprises of six semesters with a weightage of 6-19 credits of coursework in each semester. You can transfer up to 82 previously earned credits into this track.
• Graduates of the A.A.S. degree program can opt for the 3-semester Track B comprising coursework of 17-18 credits in each semester.
• All the tracks of both degrees are a mix of classroom sessions, online studies, and practical training.
• The Easy credit transfer Policy makes the transition seamlessly convenient.
Located in Klamath Falls, OR, Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) prepares dental hygiene aspirants for an exciting career in oral care. Graduates can explore opportunities such as a -clinical dental hygienist, dental practice administrator, teacher or researcher in the field of dental hygiene.
• OIT currently offers a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree in dental hygiene, which is delivered through extensive clinical sessions in dental clinics, in addition to on-campus training (practical and theory sessions). The 190-credit coursework will start with 39-credit pre-dental hygiene coursework in the first year, followed by oral preventive measures, periodontology course, and dental radiology, among others in sophomore year. In the third or junior year, you will learn about pain management, dental materials, and other advanced clinical practices. You can also opt for an international externship during the end of this academic year or in the senior year. In the last or senior year, you will complete your dental knowledge and practices requirements to obtain your degree successfully.
• OIT admits only 24 students each year, and typically student to faculty ratio remains at 5:1 during dental clinical sessions, and 10:1 during laboratory training.
• In partnership with Chemeketa Community College (CCC), OIT also offers this program in Salem
• If you hold an associate degree in dental hygiene, have cleared the dental hygiene national board exam, and have state licensure, then OIT also facilitates to complete this bachelor’s degree online
. The duration of this online program will vary, depending upon evaluation of your previous course credits that are accepted during the credit-transfer process.
Located in Anaheim, California, and equipped with cutting-edge dental facilities, West Coast University is committed to preparing highly proficient dental hygienists for the ever-growing allied dental field. WCU offers a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, which you can complete in 34 months. Apart from the extensive training exercise in a simulation lab, you will also receive training at a real dental clinic, facilitating the hands-on learning experience. The coursework, comprising a total of 124 credits, is divided into 46 credits of general education courses, and 78 credits of core dental hygiene subjects, lab work, and clinical sessions. This program is offered at the Orange County Campus.
• Collectively in seven semesters, there will be 140 instructional weeks.
• From 2011 to 2015, 100% of graduates from this program have successfully cleared the clinical exam and national board dental hygiene exam.
• Annually more than 15,000 patients visit WCU’s dental hygiene clinic, where you will receive excellent hands-on learning experience while working with real patients.
San Joaquin Valley College offers a 16-month dental hygiene program (associate degree) at its two campuses in California – Ontario, and Visalia. The 65-credit curriculum is divided into four terms (16 weeks each) and includes dental health education (preventive and precautionary procedures), oral biology, and oral radiology, amongst others. In addition to this, you will receive hands-on clinical experience during all four terms. In the 1st term, you will undergo a pre-clinical session (8 hours each week); in the 2nd term, you will start receiving your first clinical experience (8 hours each week); whereas in the 3rd and the 4th, you will receive 12 to 16 hours of clinical exercises on a weekly basis. Upon completion of the program, you can sit for the licensure exam (national, regional, or state), and become a registered dental hygienist.
• Low student to faculty ratio facilitates individualized attention to all students.
• In 2018, 100% of the program graduates cleared clinical board exam, and over 90% have successfully passed the national board exam.
Why Attending a Program Accredited by CODA Makes a Difference?
Your education is one of the most important things that determine your success as a dental hygienist. Programs that are accredited by CODA are recognized by dentists and other facilities that hire hygienists as being known for teaching only to the highest standards that are put in place for your career field.
Certification and Licensure Requirements to Work as a Dental Hygienist
Dental hygienists are not typically required to obtain certification to work in their positions. However, every state does require hygienist to earn their license before they are allowed to work with patients in a dental clinic. Since every state has different requirements, it is best to check with your local licensing office to find out what you must do to obtain your license.
In most states, your process to get licensed begins with meeting the requirement of completing an accredited dental hygiene educational program. After you earn your degree, you will then need to pass two tests. The first test is the National Board Dental Examination that is administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations
. This is a comprehensive written exam that covers all of the information that you learned in school such as your understanding of microbiology and pathology. You will also need to complete an exam that is issued by your state or region that also covers the skills that you will use as a dental hygienist.
Where Do Dental Hygienists Work?
Offices of Dentists:
Dentists are the largest employer of dental hygienists. In a dentist office, you will help to clean teeth and perform procedures such as applying tooth sealants.
Government organizations also employ dental hygienists to provide services to the people that work there such as service members in the military.
Offices of Physicians:
A dental hygienist may also work in a physician’s office where they may perform duties such as assessing a patient’s oral health or doing a cleaning before a surgery.
| Industry || Employment |
| Number|| Percent|
| Offices of Dentists||203,330||95%|
|Offices of Physicians||2,080||1%|
Work Environment & Conditions
Dental hygienists work in a comfortable indoor environment, but the job does require you to spend large amounts of time sitting in a chair or standing as you perform oral hygiene procedures on patients. There is also a small amount of risk involved with the position due to the potential for radiation exposure and contact with bodily fluids that may contain pathogens. Both of these risks are easily managed by using proper safeguards such as stepping out of the room to perform x-rays and wearing protective gear such as a mask and gloves. New technology, such as digital x-ray machines, also reduce these risks. Hygienists may work full or part-time, and you may be able to set your own schedule in some dental clinics.
What Starting Salary Can I Expect as a Dental Hygienist?
A dental hygienist salary makes your dedication to finishing your education worth it since you can expect to start out making approximately $61,510 a year. With a monthly salary of $5,130, you can live well in the majority of cities in the United States.
| Type|| Salary|
| Monthly||$5,130 |
| Annual||$61,510 |
| (Source: In-House Research)|
How Much Will My Salary Grow with Experience?
Your salary as a dental hygienist increases substantially as you continue to work within your field. After five years, you will earn approximately $6,780 monthly. This equals out to $81,400 a year. After working for 20 years as a hygienist, your salary enters the six-figure range with most people earning around $107,640 a year. This large increase in salary that comes with experience is due to the tendency for hygienists to continue to develop their skills through continuing education courses and practical experiences that they participate in at work.
| Level of Experience|| Hourly|| Monthly|| Annual|
| 1-4 years||$36.11 ||$6,260||$75,100 |
| 5-9 years||$39.13 ||$6,780||$81,400 |
| 10-19 years||$46.57 ||$8,070||$96,870 |
| 20 years or more||$51.75 ||$8,970||$107,640 |
| (Source: BLS)|
How Many Job Openings are there for Dental Hygienist Graduates?
| New|| Replacement|| Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)|
| (Source: careeronestop)|
10 Year Employment Outlook
Dental hygiene careers are experiencing a faster than average rate of growth in the United States. The current expectation is that the need for dental hygienists will rise by 8.93% percent over the next 10 years. This positive employment outlook provides you with opportunities for building your career such as having more options for choosing where to work. Since part of this increase is due to the increased expansion of cities, more dental clinics are expected to open in new locations. The increased employment growth is also due to more people having access to dental care along with a higher need for hygienists who can work with older members of the population.
| Employment || Employment Growth, 2021-31 |
| 2021|| 2031|| Number|| Percent|
State Wise Employment, Job Openings & Salary Breakdown
| State || Employment || Annual|
(New + Replacement)
| Alabama || 3,640 || 280 || $53,870 |
| Alaska || 560 || 50 || $113,770 |
| Arizona || 4,720 || 430 || $87,610 |
| Arkansas || 1,590 || 120 || $73,540 |
| California || 25,980 || 2,010 || $111,580 |
| Colorado || 5,100 || 450 || $93,810 |
| Connecticut || 3,150 || 360 || $92,180 |
| Delaware || 730 || 40 || $89,490 |
| District of Columbia || 150 || 20 || $93,770 |
| Florida || 13,090 || 1,230 || $76,100 |
| Georgia || 5,800 || 470 || $80,410 |
| Hawaii || 1,110 || 80 || $83,850 |
| Idaho || 1,780 || 190 || $82,140 |
| Illinois || 8,430 || 590 || $76,120 |
| Indiana || 5,210 || 360 || $78,530 |
| Iowa || 2,340 || 180 || $77,990 |
| Kansas || 1,750 || 140 || $80,360 |
| Kentucky || 2,400 || 170 || $70,910 |
| Louisiana || 2,020 || 130 || $78,050 |
| Maine || 1,090 || 60 || $76,330 |
| Maryland || 3,830 || 290 || $92,240 |
| Massachusetts || 4,580 || 390 || $89,350 |
| Michigan || 7,400 || 510 || $70,190 |
| Minnesota || 4,800 || 310 || $84,810 |
| Mississippi || 1,540 || 110 || $60,490 |
| Missouri || 3,400 || 310 || $76,540 |
| Montana || 970 || 60 || $84,520 |
| Nebraska || 1,260 || 90 || $78,120 |
| Nevada || 1,270 || 190 || $81,820 |
| New Hampshire || 1,200 || 110 || $86,570 |
| New Jersey || 6,250 || 510 || $94,610 |
| New Mexico || 1,000 || 80 || $87,700 |
| New York || 13,360 || 980 || $84,860 |
| North Carolina || 6,560 || 530 || $78,470 |
| North Dakota || 890 || 50 || $76,760 |
| Ohio || 8,320 || 600 || $74,220 |
| Oklahoma || 2,480 || 240 || $86,050 |
| Oregon || 3,170 || 310 || $95,360 |
| Pennsylvania || 8,640 || 520 || $75,550 |
| Rhode Island || 870 || 60 || $80,040 |
| South Carolina || 3,160 || 300 || $71,100 |
| South Dakota || 570 || 40 || $75,380 |
| Tennessee || 4,600 || 330 || $68,450 |
| Texas || 11,180 || 1,350 || $79,690 |
| Utah || 3,210 || 270 || $73,300 |
| Vermont || 610 || 40 || $85,660 |
| Virginia || 5,340 || 430 || $89,450 |
| Washington || 7,140 || 1,050 || $111,430 |
| West Virginia || 1,150 || 90 || $64,280 |
| Wisconsin || 4,760 || 380 || $75,970 |
| Wyoming || 540 || 40 || $78,600 |
|(Source: BLS & careeronestop)|
Important Organizations & Associations
This organization provides you with benefits that span your entire career. From learning about how to obtain your license to discovering new ways to achieve a better work-life balance, you can find a wealth of information through their website.
The IFDH is a non-political organization that aims to elevate dental care on a global level. Your membership in this organization shows your commitment to ensuring proper oral hygiene throughout the world, and you can learn about the latest advances in dental care that occur internationally.
The ADA is one of the most highly recognized organizations in the United States. In addition to providing access to training opportunities, they also provide services that help you manage your career as a dental hygienist such as recommendations for tools and equipment that you can use to perform your duties.
This organization advocates for the need for dental education programs to adhere to high standards that lead to skilled graduates who enter their career field. As a member, you can participate in events and discussions that help to shape dental education programs.
Hygienists who are interested in staying on top of the latest research and advances in their field benefit from joining this association. Members gain access to notable journals and networking opportunities.
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